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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Decline Of Rejection Letters

Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the famed Chicken Soup for the Soul series, often likes to remind the book publishing world it missed its chance to publish his first of a series that now boasts well over 100 titles and tens of millions in sales. He received something like 140 rejections. I wonder if that still happens today. Many writers aren’t even seeking out publishers directly. They either have a literary agent to contact publishers or they decide to self-publish. The days of writers getting SAEE’s back from dozens of book editors are nearing an end.

I guess that’s one good thing about the digitization of the publishing world. It could not have been good on the writer’s ego to keep receiving form rejection letters that he/she paid to receive.

The process has changed. Authors don’t submit much directly to the major publishers, as the publishers say they no longer fish through the slush pile to find gold. In fact, authors are becoming the publishers. They don’t have to wait for someone else to validate their work. To the entrepreneurial author, he/she can publish a book immediately if they want to do e-books or print-on-demand. They can also print their own books, find distribution, and hire a publicist.

Certainly, there are many reasons/advantages to getting published by a major traditional book publisher – access to professional editors, cover designers, publicists, marketers, foreign rights sales, distribution -- and earn prestige. But knowing that you no longer have to suffer through the rejection letter process is something today’s up and coming author should relish in.

Interview With Literary Agent Laurie Abkemeier 

Laurie Abkemeier  (www.agentobvious.com) has been a literary agent for the past eight years with NYC-based DeFiore and Company (www.defioreandco.com). Prior to that she worked as an editor for six years, first at Touchstone/Fireside, and then at Hyperion.  Here is her interview with Book Marketing Buzz Blog:

1.      What advice do you give aspiring authors?  Since I specialize in nonfiction, my advice is geared toward nonfiction writers.  In their case, a book should not be the first step. A book is something you build toward. It should grow out of your experience or your work, or (at the very least) smaller writing projects such as articles, columns, essays, and the like. Focus on developing your expertise, your platform, your credibility for writing about whatever it is you're writing about. Good grammar and correct spelling also helps. 

2.      What do you love most about being a literary agent?  I love that there are no limits on the types of projects I represent.  As an editor, I had to stick to the categories that the publisher was best suited for. As an agent, I can represent both UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER PARTY BOOK (pop culture) and WHAT A PLANT KNOWS (science), as well as GRAMMAR GIRL'S 101 WORDS TO SOUND SMART (reference) and PICASSO AND THE CHESS PLAYER (narrative nonfiction). Nothing beats that.  I love developing ideas, working closely with authors, and being an author's advocate. Most of all, I love the long-term relationship an agent is able to have with an author.  

3.      Why should authors use a literary agent to get published?  I'm very clear on the fact that not all authors need an agent, but every author can benefit from one. Good agents can help an author improve a proposal or manuscript, and a professional submission is more likely to get the attention of frazzled editors. An author with an experienced agent is going to receive a better offer and a better contract. And an author with a knowledgeable agent is going to have someone to guide and protect him or her through the entire publishing process. An agent should be an author's available and trusted source of information. 

4.      It is 2021: what will publishing look like?  All digital! OK, maybe not "all," but mostly. I think we're headed in the same direction that the music industry has gone. There will still be books in big-box retail stores like Target, Walmart, Costco, and grocery stores, and also in specialty stores -- children's bookstores, gift stores -- and there will be scattered brick-and-mortar stores (and they'll be spectacular, like publishing meccas). But if you're asking me about 10 years from now, I'm predicting that Barnes & Noble will look more like a "gift" store and less like a bookstore. The upside is that I honestly believe people will buy more books because it'll be easier, more impulsive, and integrated into other everyday purchasing decisions on our mobile devices. If publishers figure out how to team with social media outlets to sell direct, it may destroy the NYT bestseller list, but it'll be a boon for books. Notice I didn't say that people will necessarily read more. The runaway bestsellers will still come about because of what people read and talk about. That will never change.

5.      Which genres are really popular right now?  Celebrity books, always, but books that tell a great story in any genre will always be popular. People want to love a book, and they want a reason to keep reading. People used to ask me what the secret was to John Grogan's MARLEY & ME.  My answer was always the same: It's a good story, well told. Now that was putting it mildly, but it's not rocket science. Make people laugh, make people cry... make people care, and you have the makings of a great book. It sounds simple, and yet it's not so easy. It's definitely not as easy as putting a cute puppy on the book jacket. The cutest picture in the world can't sell six million copies unless there's a great story attached.

6.      What do most authors not understand about the process to getting published?  It's a lot of work! The person who has to work the hardest is the author. Every step of the way, the author has to be committed, focused, and determined. The author has to knock on doors and shout from the mountaintops when it comes to promotion.  If the author is sheepish or indifferent or busy with other things, no one else will pick up the slack. The publishing team and the agent can only do so much. But here's the magical thing: When the author is enthusiastic and full of ideas, everyone else gets excited, too, and wants to do more. When great things are brewing, the enthusiasm is contagious.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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